Development Management Document - Adopted July 2015

Section 3: The Seafront

Policy DM6 – The Seafront

3.1 Southend borders, and has access to, a significant natural asset, the River Thames. The Southend Seafront stretches from Two Tree Island in the west to Foulness in the east. The extensive foreshore is a significant area for biodiversity being designated with international and European sites for nature conservation. The Seafront is not a defined area but relates to localities that have a material and intrinsic relationship with the Seafront. This relationship will be considered on a site-by-site basis, and will take into account a number of factors that may include: proximity and accessibility to the Seafront, flood risk, visual associations, function and connectivity, and the ability of a proposal to provide a positive contribution to the vitality, viability and sustainability of a particular Seafront Character Zone (Policy Table 1).

3.2 The Seafront is an important part of Southend's evolution and heritage in so far that it has defined the development, form and function of the town. Its character varies significantly along its length from the historic Leigh fishing port in the west to the former military garrison at Shoeburyness. Extensive parks and gardens stretch over the cliffs west of the pier. The central seafront area is dominated by more traditional, vibrant seaside leisure activities including amusements, giving way to more passive recreation and broad expanses of open space moving east. Along the length of the Seafront there are a number of residential areas which vary in style and density.

3.3 The Seafront is a major tourism and leisure resource. The offer ranges from passive recreation along an extensive promenade, to major tourism attractions such as the grade II listed pier, an abundance of amusement arcades and regionally significant theme park, to water sport activities based on the foreshore and estuary. The continued regeneration and sustainable development of the Southend Seafront is a key objective of the Borough Council and forms part of wider initiatives for the Thames Gateway growth area.

3.4 The Borough Council will ensure that residents, visitors, businesses and properties benefit from their close relationship with the River Thames. At the same time it acknowledges that there is a balance to be achieved and it will also safeguard, conserve and enhance the significant biodiversity, green space and other environmental resources of the area; those key elements that makes the area very attractive to residents, businesses and visitors.It will be important to ensure the sites for nature conservation on the foreshore are protected and can sustainably exist alongside any new development without there being any adverse impact on their purpose and integrity.

Seafront Character Zones

3.5 Along Southend's stretch of seafront there are several distinctive 'character zones' and each has a different built form and function. Each character zone has unique pressures and opportunities that need to be managed appropriately to promote new development as well as maintain, protect and enhance the form and function which made them originally distinctive. As a consequence it will not be appropriate to apply a single policy approach to the whole Seafront area. Policy Table 1 sets out the development principles that will guide development in each distinctive character zone and ensure that the unique characteristics of each is maintained and enhanced.

3.6 The Central Seafront Area and Shoeburyness are not considered within the character zones in Policy Table 1 as the detailed policy approach to development for these areas will be addressed in the Southend Central Area Action Plan (SCAAP) and area specific policy for Shoeburyness.

Built Environment

3.7 The Seafront plays a major role in defining the character of Southend. The Southend Borough Wide Character Study 2011 identifies several distinct facets that define Southend relationship with the Seafront. These are:

  • Historic estuary town at Leigh-on-Sea;
  • Pleasure and leisure function in the central part of Southend;
  • Hotels and larger scale buildings in the areas of the seafront around the central seafront;
  • Residential character and smaller scale beyond the central seafront area;
  • Cliffs located along western part of seafront resulting in a very distinctive landscape of steep escarpments.

3.8 The Seafront is also characterised by the frequency of heavily articulated buildings, including bold use of bays and balconies. Corner sites are particularly pronounced, often providing opportunities for additional height and decorative features such as turrets to provide significant visual landmarks. There is of course a strong orientation towards the sea.

3.9 Southend benefits greatly from a south facing aspect over the Thames Estuary at the point where it widens to meet the English Channel. However this also creates significant pressure on land in the premium positions along the seafront. Increasingly the desire for more flats and retirement properties in this location has led to taller and bulkier developments which have impacted on the distinctive character. The south side of the seafront esplanades remain relatively free from development outside of the Central Area and the open character of the seafront will be conserved and enhanced wherever possible to retain important views across the foreshore.

3.10 There are a number of existing buildings along the seafront that form a cohesive frontage, have historic context, or are recognised as key landmarks and/or contribute to a distinctive sense of place and should be protected from development that would adversely affect their character, appearance, setting and the importance of the seafront. These are listed in Appendix 11.

3.11 The main concern for the character of the Seafront is the gradual degradation of that which makes it unique. The unsympathetic increase in scale in some locations and loss of historic grain has had a detrimental effect on the integrity and character of the Seafront. As a consequence there is a need to adopt design principles that influence form, appearance and massing so that they are appropriate to the differing characters along the Seafront. Where appropriate, design codes will also be developed for the Seafront Character Zones referred to in Table 1 below.

Public Realm

3.12 The coastline and foreshore setting already has a distinctive and historic character and sense of place, with many activities along the Seafront. The horizontal and hypnotic nature of the landscape is well suited for relaxation, rest and recuperation. Improvements to the Seafront's public realm is critical to Southend's status as a cultural and tourist destination and an attractive place to live and workwithin Thames Gateway.

3.13 Interspersed at regular distances, street furniture and public art will be encouraged as part of development, in line with the Council's Streetscape Manual SPD,to distinguish areas of different character and provide information on distances between points to facilitate way-finding. This will not only improve legibility, it will also provide markers for a range of leisure activities such as running, walking or cycling, reinforcing Southend's Seafront as a high quality environment. The overall public realm strategy is driven by the following principles:

  • The importance of a high quality public realm;
  • The role of the seafront as an important linear route where the promotion of walking and cycling, and associated facilities, should be a key consideration;
  • The need for a broader range of activities and experiences for all members of the community;
  • The value of the existing parks, gardens and landscape areas;
  • The inclusion of a network of high quality activity spaces connected through a 'Green Corridor' along the Esplanade to include distinctive street furniture, lighting and illumination and Public Art;
  • The creation of a distinctive identity for each Seafront Character Zone when viewed or experienced on land or from the sea.

3.14 There is a clear intention to develop green corridors which will join up green spaces along the Seafront with the wider Southend area and the South Essex Green Grid. Any developments along the Seafront should take account of the Seafront's role as 'Green Corridor' and where appropriate incorporate and contribute to this function and the linkages to the wider area. An important strategic link will be the Thames Estuary Path which meanders from Central London to Shoeburyness. It will be particularly important in Southend linking the Seafront to Chalkwell, Leigh on Sea and beyond to Hadleigh, the former venue for the Olympic Mountain biking event in 2012.

Nature Conservation and Biodiversity

3.15 Government Policy necessitates a high level of protection to be given to the most valued landscapes, wildlife habitats and natural resources, and especially those with national and international designations which should receive the highest level of protection. The foreshore is Southend's most valuable amenity, biodiversity and natural resource and is recognised as such by international, national and local designations. These designations are:

  • RAMSAR site;
  • Site of Special Scientific Interest;
  • Special Protection Area (for Birds);
  • Leigh National Nature Reserve (part); and
  • Southend Foreshore Local Nature Reserve.

3.16 These foreshore and estuary sites are significant attractions in their own right and the mudflats at Southend and Leigh contribute to the estuarine character of the place. Indeed Two Tree Island and Leigh Marshes are important visitor attractions which could be further enhanced to provide an eco-tourism offer.

3.17 In addition to the importance given to the Seafront as a natural environment, providing a wildlife and biodiversity habitat and this being an attraction in its own right, there are many demands on the Seafront for other leisure and tourism activities, as well as its role in harbouring flood defences, and an appropriate balance needs to be struck between these often competing priorities.

Tourism and Leisure Activities

3.18 Southend is a major tourist destination and has long had leisure and cultural infrastructure of regional significance, including the grade II listed SouthendPier. Much of this development is a direct result of the historical attraction of the foreshore for its health benefits associated with beach and water recreation activities, and an attractive environment in which to spend leisure time which has continued to the present day. The Council and its partners recognise the importance of the Seafront in achieving the ambition of Southend being a key cultural hub. This priority is reflected in the Southend Core Strategy which at its heart sees the Central Seafront Area as a focus for regeneration.

3.19 Informal recreational use of the foreshore and estuary takes place along almost the entire length of the Seafront. Indeed, this function has happily co-existed with nature conservation principles and values, and has done so for many years. Nevertheless it remains essential to balance regeneration, tourism and recreational opportunities with the biodiversity and natural resources along the Seafront

Managing Flood Risk and Coastal Change

3.20 Government policy emphasises that flood risk will be an influence on the location of development, and for development plans to follow a 'sequential test' in relation to the level of flood risk, if possible directing development away from areas at risk of flooding or implementing mitigation measures where development is essential. Within Southend, the Environment Agency's current indicative floodplain maps identify a number of areas along the Seafront which are deemed to be 'at risk', mainly from tidal flooding. In assessing the weight to be attached to this consideration, the Borough Council, in preparing its Core Strategy had regard to:

  • The cultural, leisure and tourism opportunities on the seafront and regeneration and growth imperatives particularly within the built up central seafront area;
  • The findings of the 2006 Thames Gateway South Essex Strategic Flood Risk Assessment (SFRA) which provided accurate maps of local flood risk. It indicated that flood defences within and adjacent to Southend were mainly in good overall condition. However, there remained small, but significant areas of the Borough where a residual risk remained in the event of a breach in the tidal defences; and
  • Southend's regular and systematic improvements to existing flood defences to meet perceived levels of risk, which reduces the level of actual risk,asindicated on current flood plain maps. This policy to maintain flood defences in line with the potential risk posed by climate change is set to continue and is supported by the Thames Estuary 2100 (TE2100) Nov 2012 and South Essex Catchment Flood Management Plan (CFMP) December 2008.

3.21 The adopted Core Strategy identifies the Seafront as a key growth and regeneration area, and in addressing flood risk requires that, where the Environment Agency's Flood Zone Maps or other considerations (including up to date Strategic Flood Risk Assessment), indicate that a risk of flooding remain, all development proposals shall be accompanied by a detailed flood risk assessment, appropriate to the scale and nature of the development and the risk. As such an assessment will need to clearly demonstrate that a particular development is appropriate in terms of type, siting and mitigation measures proposed, using sustainable flood risk management options which safeguard biodiversity importance of the foreshore and / or effective sustainable drainage measures.

3.22 In 2009/10 the Borough Council commissioned an update of the Thames Gateway SFRA (2006). This update focussed on the Southend local authority area and in addition it considered all sources of flooding within Southend and the impacts of climate change.

3.23 The NPPF states that Local Plans should be supported by Strategic Flood Risk Assessment.The Southend SFRA has produced the following two reports:

  • Level 1 SFRA (completed September 2010) – provides an overview of the flood risk issues throughout Southend in order to facilitate a sequential approach during the production of spatial strategies in the future such as the review of the Core Strategy; and
  • Level 2 SFRA (completed November 2010) – provides a more detailed assessment of flood risk to inform the Exception Test.

3.24 The Level 1 SFRA confirmed that the two main sources of flooding within the Borough are tidal flooding from the Thames Estuary (resulting from a failure of a flood defence or overtopping of a defence) and fluvial flooding from the Prittle Brook, Eastwood Brook and Willingale watercourse that runs through Southchurch Park. In addition to tidal and fluvial sources, the study considered the risks associated with groundwater, surface water, sewer flooding and flooding from artificial sources. The Borough Council is also producing a Surface Water Management Plan to further assess the potential impacts and future management measures associated with surface water sources.

3.25 The most significant flood risk events in the Borough tend to be storm surges coupled with high spring tides which produce high tidal water levels in the Thames Estuary. These have the potential to impact on large areas of development along the tidal frontage

3.26 Detailed hydrodynamic breach and overtopping modelling has been completed as part of the Level 2 SFRA to provide a greater level of detail regarding the variation of residual flood risk within Flood Zones across Southend. Results show that the Southend seafront and the southern extent of the Central Area are at residual risk of flooding in the event of a breach in the flood defences and via overtopping of the existing defences. Some of the flood defences along the Southend frontage are below the required 1 in 200 year standard for present day water levels.

3.27 Thames Estuary 2100 (TE2100) is an Environment Agency initiative, which aims to determine the appropriate level of flood protection needed for London and the Thames Estuary for the next 100 years. The Policy Management Approach within the TE2100 Plan for the seafront from Leigh-on-Sea to Shoeburyness is "to take further action to keep up with climate and land use change so that flood risk does not increase". Where the Southend Borough boundary extends to Hadleigh Marshes the Policy Management Approach is "to continue with existing or alternative actions to manage flood risk, maintaining flood defences at their current level, accepting that the likelihood and/or consequences of a flood will increase because of climate change". It is clear that the predicted increases in sea level will continue to reduce the standard of protection in time.

3.28 The overall intent of the Essex and South Suffolk Shoreline Management Plan for Southend is to sustain and support the viability of the Seafront related tourism and commercial activities and protect the communities that reside along it. This means a continuation of the current management approach that seeks to hold the current alignment where there are defences. Although the integrity of defences are at risk of erosion, holding the line is necessary to sustain the Seafront which is essential to the viability of Southend as a seaside resort.This is currently managed through beach recharge. All development should take account of the Essex and South Suffolk Shoreline Management Plan and have regard to the need to manage future flood risk and coastal change so that it does not increase the need for new sea defences.

3.29 Owing to the economic and social importance of the Seafront and its established pattern of development, it would be inappropriate to impose absolute restrictions on any future development. A key concern for the Council therefore will be toensure flood resilience of all new development and maintain the structural integrity of the flood defences. The latter can be designed to also significantly enhance leisure and tourist facilities and reflect the particular nature and role within the different proposed character zones. It is important to ensure that regeneration issues and the increased opportunities and impetus to improve the tourism and recreational offer and built environment along the Seafront does not have an adverse impact on the natural environment, biodiversity and natural resources which are at the heart of the seafronts attractiveness.

3.30 In line with the Core Strategy and Essex and South Suffolk Shoreline Management Plan, any development proposals within areas of risk will require detailed flood risk assessment and agreement with the Environment Agency. Development will also be required to demonstrate that it is appropriate in terms of type, siting and the mitigation measures proposed, including where necessary enhancement of flood defences and/or effective sustainable drainage measures.

3.31 For proposals, reference should always be made to the Southend SFRA 1 & 2 Reports and, when published, the Surface Water Management Plan for detailed surface water modelling results, and further details on the mechanics of surface water flooding locally. Site-specific Flood Risk Assessments (required for all development proposals on sites greater than 1ha) should refer to Council and water utility historic flood records to establish the level of potential surface water flood risk to any future development in these locations.

Water Recreation

3.32 Water recreation in Southend has increased in popularity over recent years and this popularity looks set to continue over the coming years as Southend's profile as a visitor destination catering for theiractivities increases. It is considered important that proposals for new and improved facilities, including additional slipways, are provided in appropriate locations where they do not conflict with other beach activities, public accessibility, the general enjoyment of the foreshore and the natural environment including the designated sites. Individual proposals are likely to require assessment under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 and will need to take account of any known wreck sites or other heritage assets.

Policy DM6 – The Seafront

  1. All development within the Seafront Area will incorporate measures which will:
    1. (i) Limit any adverse impacts and where possible enhance the biodiversity interests of the local nature reserves and coastal and marine environment; and
    2. (ii) Protect the valuable natural amenity areas of International, European, national importance.
  2. All development proposals within the Seafront Area must take account of flood risk and coastal change. This will include, where appropriate, developing, agreeing and then incorporating:
    1. Appropriate flood defence and engineering solutions; and/or
    2. Flood resistant and resilient design that provides safe refuge to occupants in the event of a flood and is easily restored after the event.
    3. Design solutions which do not prevent or restrict future maintenance and improvement of flood defences and the Borough Council's ability to manage coastal change.
  3. Existing buildings along the Seafront that form a cohesive frontage, have a historic context or are recognised as key landmarks and/or contribute to a distinctive Southend sense of place will be retained and protected from development that would adversely affect their character, appearance, setting and the importance of the Seafront.
  4. Development within or near the Seafront Area must not detrimentally impact upon the Thames Estuary's openness or views across and backdrops to the River Thames and Southend's beaches.
  5. The provision of new and improved facilities for water recreation and other leisure and tourism facilities will generally be supported in appropriate locations along the Seafront in accordance with Policy Table 1. Proposals are required to demonstrate that:
    1. Such facilities will not detrimentally reduce the amount of beach available for public use or public accessibility to the foreshore; and
    2. They provide an adequate means of access to the foreshore
    3. They contribute to the positive appreciation of natural resources and biodiversity of the foreshore by visitors and users.
  6. All development within the Seafront Area must accord with the development principles set outin Policy Table 1. Additionally all new buildings must:
    1. Demonstrate how it connects to and, where appropriate, contributes to the Green Grid Strategy; and
    2. Either incorporate or contribute towards the provision public art within this area.

      All development must explore the need for Habitats Regulation Assessment to ensure screening for potential adverse impacts on internationally designated nature conservation sites in the area.

Policy Table 1: Seafront Character Zones

Seafront Character Zones

Development Principles

1. Two Tree Island, Leigh Marshes and Belton Hills

(i) To maintain and improve recreational facilities within the character area and provide appropriate additional recreational facilities that support the needs of local residents and enhances the attractiveness of the offer for visitors.

(ii) To protect the special character of the nature reserve.

(iii) The priority is to maintain the openness and function of the Green Belt in this area.

(iv) To retain character and building height and type along Marine Parade.

2. Leigh Port and Old Town

(i) To maintain a thriving fisheries and working port by resisting the loss of existing marine industrial activities.

(ii) To enhance the leisure and tourism offer, but in a manner that does not compromise the marine industrial activities and character of Leigh Old Town.

(iii) To preserve and enhance the special character of Leigh Old Town Conservation Area.

(iv) Measures that maintain anappropriate balance between the working port and leisure and tourism activities, when considered in conjunction with points 2(i), 2(ii) and 2(iii) will be supported.

3. The Cinder Path (Old Leigh to Chalkwell Station including Cliff Parade, Grand Parade and Undercliff Gardens)

(i) To continue to protect and enhance the open character and undeveloped, green space, frontage and estuary views from Grand Parade, Cliff Parade, The Gardens, Undercliff Gardens, Leigh Hill and The Ridgeway.

(ii) Development will be considered acceptable where it adds to the overall quality of Undercliff Gardens, Grand Parade, Cliff Parade, The Gardens, Leigh Hill and The Ridgeway, and where it retains the characteristics and form of the area. Development that materially changes the existing character, appearance and form of the area will be resisted.

(iii) To improve the public realm linked to the Sustrans cycle route.

(iv) Improvements to the accessibility of the foot bridge and creation of a distinctive public space.

4. Chalkwell Esplanade to San Remo

(i) To maintain and enhance the open aspect of the foreshore and beaches, promenade and landscaped areas.

(ii) To replenish the beaches as the need arises and maintain the integrity of the flood defences.

(iii) To improve the quality of the beach huts at the western end of the Zone. Additional beach huts elsewhere within this Zone will be resisted.

(iv) Resist inappropriate development fronting the Seafront to ensure that established seafront architectural style and form is maintained in this location.

(v) The total or partial demolition of a heritage asset will be resisted, in accordance with Policy DM5, where there is no clear and convincing justification for this.

(vi) In all areas the vernacular form and fine urban grain of the seafront that defines this character zone will be preserved. Further amalgamation of existing plots and large format bulky buildings are not considered appropriate and will be resisted.

(vii) The low rise height of existing buildings should also be maintained in future development. Development will only be allowed where it is appropriate to context and where it adds to the overall quality of the area.

(viii) To develop a quality promenade that incorporates the Sustrans cycle route and encourages activity and increased enjoyment of the Seafront.

(ix) To maintain and promote the commercial activities within this character zone.

(x) To replenish the beaches as the need arises and maintain the integrity of the flood defences.

(xi) Encourage improvements to existing shelters and cafes. Refurbishment and renewal works will not impact on the foreshore views and should not unduly encroach onto the foreshore.

5. Victoria Road to Clieveden Road

(i) To encourage enhancements that promote this location as a tourist and leisure destination and as a place to live.

(ii) Encourage improvements to existing shelters and cafes. Refurbishment and renewal works will not impact on the foreshore views and should not unduly encroach onto the foreshore.

(iii) To protect the existing architectural character and mix of uses.

(iv) To resist inappropriate development fronting the Seafront. The vernacular form and fine urban grain of the seafront that defines this character zone will be preserved. The amalgamation of existing plots and large format bulky buildings will be resisted.

(v) The low rise height of existing buildings should also be maintained in future development.Development will only be allowed where it is appropriate to context and where it adds to the overall quality of the area.

6. Clieveden Road to Maplin Way

(i) Maintain existing established built character and activities based around open parks and beach recreation.

(ii) Measures to improve the quality of the beach huts will be supported.

(iii) Green grid will be enhanced through improvements to the parks and gardens.

(iv) Retain and enhanceexisting leisure activities including the tennis, bowls and yacht clubs. No major development will be promoted or supported in this zone.

(v) New flatted developments along the Seafront will be resisted. Development that does take place must respect the open nature of the public and private open space and the grain and character of the residential area.

(vi) Shelters and cafes will be improved. Refurbishment and renewal works will not impact on the foreshore views and should not unduly encroach upon it.

Core Strategy Linkage:



Strategic Objective 4

Policy KP1: Spatial Strategy

Strategic Objective 12

Policy KP2: Development Principles

Strategic Objective 14

Policy CP4: The Environment and Urban Renaissance

Please refer to the Policies Map where applicable for land use designations related to Policy DM6.

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